- Israel evacuates Palestinians from tent outpost in West Bank
- France believes hostage killed in Somalia rescue bid
- Pentagon report cites "lack of maturity" of Lockheed F-35 jet
Posted: 12 Jan 2013 06:26 PM PST
E1, West Bank (Reuters) - Israeli security forces evacuated about 100 Palestinians early on Sunday from an outpost of tents pitched in an area of the occupied West Bank that Israel has earmarked for a new settlement.
Israel's Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the Palestinian outpost, built in the geographically sensitive area known as E1, could remain for six days while the issue of the removal of the tents was being discussed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the meantime, ordered those gathered there to be evacuated. A police spokesman said the court allowed for the removal of the protesters even if the tents, for now, will stay.
Netanyahu's pledge last November to build settlements on E1 caused an outcry, with European diplomats warning it could kill off any hope of creating a contiguous Palestinian state.
The prime minister's office said in a statement on Saturday that the government was petitioning the court to retract its ruling on the outpost, and had instructed security forces to block off roads leading to the rocky desert terrain.
Hours later, Israeli police and border guard officers entered the compound and told a crowd of about 100 to leave the 20 large, steel-framed tents that were erected a day earlier in an effort to preserve the land for a future Palestinian state.
Those protesters who refused to leave were carried down the hill by Israeli officers, but there was no violence.
"Everyone was evacuated carefully and swiftly, without any injuries to officers or protesters," said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
The encampment's name, "Bab el Shams," which means "Gateway to the Sun" in Arabic, was taken from a novel by Lebanese writer Elias Khoury that tells the history of the Palestinians through a love story. Earlier, the writer called the protesters in solidarity.
For years, Israel froze building in E1, which currently houses only a police headquarters, after coming under pressure from former U.S. President George W. Bush.
But Netanyahu recently announced plans to expand settlements after the Palestinians won de-facto statehood recognition at the U.N. General Assembly last year.
International powers view all Jewish settlement building in areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War as detrimental to securing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
E1 covers 4.6 square miles (12 square km) and is seen as particularly important because it not only juts into the narrow "waist" of the West Bank, but backs onto East Jerusalem, where Palestinians want to establish their capital.
Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the West Bank, which is dominated by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction, and the Gaza Strip, which is run by the rival Islamist group Hamas.
About 500,000 Israelis and 2.5 million Palestinians live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2010 over the issue of Israel's continued settlement building.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 12 Jan 2013 06:21 PM PST
PARIS/MOGADISHU (Reuters) - France sent special forces into Somalia to rescue a secret agent but insurgents apparently killed their hostage during the raid along with a commando, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Saturday.
The intelligence agency team flew into southern Somalia by helicopter under cover of darkness to try to free Denis Allex, held since 2009, by al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab, on the same day France launched air strikes against Islamist militants in Mali.
"Commandos broke into where Allex was being detained last night and immediately faced strong resistance," Le Drian told a news conference.
"Intense combat took place, during which - and now I speak with caution - everything leads us to believe that Denis Allex was unfortunately killed by his captors."
Sowing confusion, Al Shabaab said in a statement that Allex was still alive.
Paris has been concerned that various French hostages held in Africa would be at risk if it intervened militarily against the al Qaeda-allied fighters in Mali, but Le Drian said the Somalia raid was "totally unconnected" to the Mali operation.
The deaths in Somalia coincided with the killing of a pilot in air strikes in Mali, however, striking a double blow to the start of a campaign that represents President Francois Hollande's biggest foreign policy test since his May election.
A French commando died from wounds sustained in the Somali raid and a second was missing, Le Drian said.
The defence ministry said earlier that 17 Somali fighters were killed in a mission prompted by "the intransigence of the terrorists, who refused to negotiate for three and half years".
Al Shabaab said in a statement that Allex was alive and being held at a location far from the base where French military helicopters attacked overnight.
"The injured French soldier is now in the custody of the mujahideen and Allex still remains safe and far from the location of the battle," it said. "Several French soldiers were killed in the battle and many more were injured before they fled from the scene of battle, leaving behind some military paraphernalia and even one of their comrades on the ground."
When asked about whether the missing commando was now in the hands of Al Shabaab, French Army chief Admiral Edouard Guillaud said: "If he is alive then he could be, but he could also be hiding."
France has eight nationals in Islamist hands in the Sahel area after a string of kidnappings, and has cited concern over their safety as a reason for its initial reluctance to spearhead any military action against the Islamist rebels in Mali.
A spokesman for Malian insurgents Ansar Dine said France's intervention in the country will put French citizens at risk.
"There are consequences, not only for French hostages, but also for all French citizens wherever they find themselves in the Muslim world," Sanda Ould Boumama told Reuters. "
A French military analyst, Jean-Dominique Merchet, said he doubted the raid had been mounted in coordination with the Mali operation and it appeared to be a case of unfortunate timing.
"The Mali intervention was not planned, it was launched in two days, whereas the other raid had been in the works for a week or two. There is no reason for them to have been coordinated," he said.
PLEADING FOR LIFE
Allex was one of two officers from the DGSE intelligence agency kidnapped by al Shabaab in Mogadishu in July 2009. His colleague, Marc Aubriere, escaped a month later but Allex had been held ever since in what Paris called "inhumane conditions".
The ministry said he was kidnapped while carrying out an aid mission with the Somali government. France has previously said the two men were in the Somali capital to train local forces.
A video of Allex pleading with Hollande to negotiate his release and save his life appeared on a website in October used by Islamist militant groups around the world. Reuters could not verify its authenticity.
Hollande said at the time the government was seeking to start talks with any party able to facilitate Allex's release.
After his abduction, al Shabaab issued a series of demands, which included an end to French support for the Somali government and the withdrawal of African Union peacekeepers, whose 17,600-strong troops are helping battle the rebels.
Under pressure from the peacekeeping troops and Somali government forces, al Shabaab has lost many of its major urban strongholds in south-central Somalia since it launched a rebellion against the Western-backed government in 2007.
The rebels, who want to impose their strict interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law, across the Horn of Africa state, withdrew from the capital Mogadishu in August last year and lost their last major bastion of Kismayu six weeks ago.
A Somali official in Bula Mareer, about 120 km (75 miles) south of Mogadishu, said French helicopters attacked overnight.
"Helicopters attacked al Shabaab at 2.00 a.m. this morning. Two civilians died in the crossfire," Ahmed Omar Mohamed, deputy chairman for lower Shabelle region, told Reuters.
An al Shabaab official who asked not to be named said they exchanged fire with French commandos. "Three helicopters dropped French commandos. We exchanged fire," the official told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Feisal Omar in Mogadishu and Leila Abboud and Catherine Bremer in Paris; Editing by Alison Williams and Jason Webb)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 12 Jan 2013 05:22 PM PST
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp's's new F-35 fighter jet has completed over a third of its planned flight tests, but it is still facing problems with the helmet needed to fly the plane, software development and weapons integration, according to a report by the Pentagon's chief weapons tester.
The 18-page report, sent to Congress on Friday, included a detailed account of those issues and others, which it said underscored the "lack of maturity" of the $396 billion weapons program, the Pentagon's most expensive ever.
The program exceeded the number of flight tests and specific system tests planned for 2012 but lagged in some areas due to unresolved problems and newly discovered issues. The program has already completed over 20,000 specific tests of items and capabilities on the plane, but has 39,579 more such tests to go.
The report highlighted the continued growing pains of the ambitious Lockheed fighter program, which began in 2001 and has been restructured three times in recent years to slow down production and allow more progress on the development program.
Lockheed is building three different models of the F-35 fighter jet for the U.S. military and eight countries that helped pay for its development: Britain, Canada, Italy, Turkey, Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia and Norway.
The Pentagon plans to buy 2,443 of the warplanes in coming decades, although many analysts believe U.S. budget constraints and deficits will eventually reduce that overall number.
"The lag in accomplishing the intended 2012 flight testing content defers testing to following years, and in the meantime, will contribute to the program delivering less capability in the production aircraft in the near term," said the report prepared by Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation.
Gilmore said the program remained saddled by a high level of concurrency or overlap between development, production and testing. The Pentagon planned that overlap from the start, but its top weapons buyer, Frank Kendall, last year described that approach as "acquisition malpractice."
CONDUCTING FLIGHT TESTS
The report said the program conducted 1,092 flight tests in 2012, 18 percent more than the 927 flight tests planned, running more tests than scheduled for the Marine Corps B-model and the Navy's C-model or carrier variant.
But it fell short of the flight tests planned for the Air Force's conventional takeoff A-model. That model completed 30 percent less test points than planned due to operating limits on the plane and problems with the weapon bay doors, it said.
It said flight tests were also limited by problems with the air refuelling system, which led to restrictions on all A-model planes and required new instrumentation to isolate the cause.
The plane's stealthy coatings - which make it nearly invisible to enemy radars - were also peeling off on horizontal tail surfaces due to higher-than-expected temperatures during high-speed, high-altitude flights, the report said.
The Marine Corps version of the plane flew more than planned but lagged its target for test points by 49 percent due to issues with the weapon bay doors and an engine lift fan needed for that B-model's vertical landings, the report said.
The lift fan is built by Rolls Royce, a supplier to the engine maker, Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp.
The weight of the new plane remained fairly steady over the past year, and the mean time between critical failures increased, but the plane's performance remained below the level expected for this point in the program, the report said.
The report also cited continuing delays with Lockheed's delivery of software for the new fighter, noting that software packages needed to support flight test were delayed or not complete when delivered.
It said the complex helmet that integrates data for the pilot from all the plane's sensors was still facing issues, as is a computerized logistics system.
Weapons integration testing was delayed by a number of factors, including problems with the performance of a radar system and in tracking targets.
Durability testing of the Marine's B-model had to be halted in December after multiple cracks were found on the underside of the plane's fuselage, the report said.
It also cited problems with the ability of the Navy's C-model to transfer video and imagery data to ships, and said one live-fire test revealed a potentially serious problem with the coolant system, which was now being addressed.
More work was also needed on a system aimed at protecting the plane from fuel tank explosions caused by lightning, the report concluded, noting that flight operations were currently banned within 25 miles of known lightning conditions.
No immediate comment was available from Lockheed or the Pentagon's F-35 program office.
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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